Building and Projecting Confidence


Whenever I feel afraid
I hold my head erect
And whistle a happy tune
So no one will suspect
I’m afraid.

While shivering in my shoes
I strike a careless pose
And whistle a happy tune
And no one ever knows
I’m afraid.

The result of this deception
Is very strange to tell
For when I fool the people I fear
I fool myself as well!

Oscar Hammerstein II

A few years ago there was quite a buzz about Power Poses, with Amy Cuddy storming TEDTalks with her research on how we can change other people’s perceptions of us by changing our posture, and how the stances we adopt affect our own physical self. Not to discredit the work of Cuddy and her team- it’s great to have some real and valid scientific evidence to back up these claims- but despite its great popularity, it wasn’t exactly a revelation.

Two mannequins in a confrontation; one in a dominant attitude, one more submissive.

Boxers have been psyching out their opponents and themselves since the sport began. Today, study of the pre-bout psychological warfare is generally more rewarding than the in ring confrontation.

Let’s take a closer look at those two boxers psyching each other out. On one level it is two rutting males competing to be the alpha, wherein if one breaks, and worse still shows that he broke, in most cases the fight is already lost.

The plucky underdog of the movies that succeeds against the odds does happen in real life, but it is underpinned by either unswerving self-belief or belief in something higher.

That belief is the same for all of us, not just those boxers. It sets our attitude, and that attitude magnifies confidence, and the three combined tell our “no” brain to hush and set our “yes” brain to action. The “yes” brain makes sure the most effective physiological response is cued up, readying us for action.

These are all techniques that over time we can learn. Once we begin to retake control of our brain, it will become easier for mind and body to work together, and we can feel ourselves grow in stature.


As a word ATTITUDE takes a bit of an unfair bashing doesn’t it?

When a shop advertises quality goods, how often do we query what quality? The assumption is that quality is the finest quality and we wouldn’t expect it to be anything else. Conversely, when we hear someone has “a bit of an attitude” it is standard to assume their manner is in some way flawed. Self-help gurus have espoused for a generation or more the power of a Positive Mental Attitude, but in our daily lives the word attitude struggles against its cultural placement. That is sad, because, as those life coaches attest, attitude is one of the cornerstones of self-empowerment. It is at the heart of what we project to others, and it is core to what we invite unto ourselves.

Our attitude doesn’t just affect us psychologically, and the science is now starting to support that.

Hammerstein was right when he had Anna sing I fool myself as well, but it is actually more profound than mere self-delusion. When we use our conscious mind to adopt an attitude contrary to what our primal state suggests, we begin the process of reprogramming our whole being to have new response processes. In the case of Anna, she is overriding her first fear response with a confidence protocol in a difficult social setting, which will hopefully be the worst circumstances that most people will have to deal with. Those same attitude adjustments can be used to address many more severe threats too, from workplace bullying to a late walk home on an unlit street.

As a species, the Human is hardwired like all other creatures to stay alive. Survival is, as it has always been, the first imperative. We have become habilitated to a life of comfortability, in a world where the threats are less primal, so those skills have been relegated in importance.

We’ve all heard of Fight or Flight. It’s the mechanism where, when we are put in a potentially life threatening situation, our automotive response system kicks in, bypassing our rational, conscious, decision making mind and tries to get us safe quickly. It assesses our chances of besting the threat, and prepares us to either run or square up. In an instant.

The assumption of many has been that this mechanism is a one way process, but there is growing scientific evidence that it works both ways. That is to say we can consciously make this process work for us, and we can kickstart it with attitude and posture: what have now become known as Power Poses. Our posture, gait, attitude and general deportment will generally say more about us to strangers than our words ever could. What is less well documented is that those things also say as much if not more to ourselves.

The “no” brain empowers our self-limiting beliefs. Over time- often a remarkable short time- it will lead those fears to round our shoulders, narrow our gait and bring our gestures in close. When we adopt that closed posture it is to protect ourselves. We are making ourselves as small as possible which serves two purposes. It protects our internal organs while projecting nothing that would draw attention to ourselves. We are not a threat.

In terms of those boxers, we’re not trying to assert ourselves as an alpha in a fight because we’ve already decided that we have lost.

These days the threats we’re protecting ourselves from are of course far different from those of the past. Our vulnerabilities have changed, but our automotive responses remain.

If we adopt a vulnerable posture we are telling both our conscious and our unconscious minds that we have given up and at best hope to just survive until a better position.

This should not be the default position, as it has all too often been allowed to become.

Confidence can be learned. It can become the aspect of self we project as standard, without thinking, in the same way that vulnerability is in the example earlier. Better yet though, we can begin the process of consciously changing what we project with a few simple exercises.

Strike a Pose There’s Nothing to it.

That’s where it starts. With striking a pose. Seriously.

It may seem a little farfetched, and admittedly it does have that too good to be true feel, but almost all of the most recent physiological studies support it. If a person adopts a fearful pose, then the mind will seek to confirm those fears. Resigned to the conclusion that defeat is inevitable, hoping to survive with the minimum damage is the only goal. An upright pose- shoulders back, chest out, chin up- tells our body and our fight or flight mechanism that we are preparing for success. It increases the efficiency of our respiratory system, gets more oxygen into the blood, and potentially sharpens our wits. In short, it tells our mind there are options beyond mere survival.

Reprogramming the mind to be more confident begins with allowing the body to be confident with no adverse consequences. A fearful mind won’t risk failure on an untried premise if it’s currently in a threatened state, so it is a good idea to practice these new behaviours in an environment that already feels safe to start off with. Whether that is in the park or behind a locked bathroom door is for the individual to decide, but start small, recognise any progress, and reward your mind for its successes.

OK. Let’s Try a Simple Power Pose.

A mannequin standing in a confident position- hands on hips, shoulders back etc.

Begin by finding somewhere you feel safe, and take a moment to relax and breath. There is no reason for this to be stressful, no one is watching you unless you want them to. Allowing yourself space to do this for you is what is important.

  • Spread your feet about shoulder distance apart and plant them firmly.
  • Fix your gaze forward, and focus on something at eye level in front of you.
  • Straighten your back and put your shoulders slightly back, and move your arms so your hands are rested on your hips like Superman or Wonder Woman.
  • Take slow purposeful breaths and feel your chest expand as your lungs fill with air.

You need hold this pose no longer than five or ten seconds, but do it several times a day. It will feel odd at first if you’re not used to it, and you may even feel a little bit silly.

Now, we’re not going to pretend that standing like Wonder Woman for one minute a day is suddenly going to turn you instantly into the Amazon Princess or Man of Steel, nor that Power Poses alone will make you the most confident person overnight, but this is an accessible starting point to start giving your mind those positive references.

Success will come. If you currently self-identify as the potential victim it won’t be an immediate fix. That “no” brain has been in control so long and those feelings of self-doubt that may have had many years to propagate. Over time, introduce these postures to daily tasks, such as walking to the shop or answering the door. The important thing is to start overwriting those negative programmes with a positive one in a safe, controlled manner.